Bubble gum coloured taxis, spotless clean roads and hygienic street side food – anyone who visits Bangkok would be impressed and excited to explore it. In the recent years this capital city of Thailand has become the new tourist destination for Indians. And why not? Besides being a cheaper option compared to western touristy cities, Bangkok is a shopaholics’ paradise. It’s a mecca for people who love the finer things in life. Name any brand and it will be available in one of the many sprawling malls in the City, which is capital of Thailand (Land of the free).
Most young Thai women, who are petite and immaculately dressed, resemble the famous Thai dolls. The localites are conscious about how they look and take fashion and style very seriously. So, I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I narrate my experience. Waiting in the line to get my visa stamped (Indians get on arrival visa in Thailand) at the Bangkok airport, the woman officer at the counter, in spite of the steady flow of tourists, quickly checked herself in the compact mirror to ensure nothing was amiss. Despite this obsession of theirs, the Thai people are extremely tourist friendly.
The roads in Bangkok are pot hole free and very clean. It is also very pedestrian friendly, so much so that there authorities have built two tiered bridges in many locations that house not only a foot over bridge but also the sky trains. And, since localities as well as tourists are crazy about cheap shopping here, the foot over bridges have been strategically provided with exits that connect to the malls. It is humid here very much like Mumbai, so air-conditioned rooms are comfortable.
Bangkok has many Buddhists temples to visit. But due to paucity of time, I had to pick my sightseeing locations carefully. The first on the list was the Emerald Buddha Temple. The monolith statue of Buddha, which is carved out of emerald, is perched high on the serene temple premise. As you enter the temple, giant Chinese stone figures, faintly resembling rakshasas, stand guard on either side of the entrance, indicating the Chinese influence in the region. But even the Indian influence is hard to miss. The paintings on the temple walls narrate the exploits of Lord Rama. In fact, Ramanayana is deeply ingrained in the cultural history of the country, so much so that even some of the roads are named after Lord Rama. And, a small population here still follows Hinduism.
The four faced golden Buddha statue on a road corner is another must see. Located on Rama 1 road, the open air Erawan shrine attracts homage even from people who are not Budhists. The 50 feet high and 143 feet long golden reclining Buddha in Wat Pho temple is another tourist destination in Bangkok that one should not miss. It reminded me of Maha Vishnu’s statue in Padmanabha Swami temple in Kerala. When I visited the temple, it was under restoration. Cashing on the steady flow of tourists, a booth opposite the sanctum sanctorum, welcomed visitors to write their messages on the terracotta tiles for a price, of course, which would then be part of the temple roof, which were being changed.
In Bangkok, the strong presence of the royal family is hard to miss. And for this very reason, the teak palace, one of the many royal palaces, inspires awe; even the nails are made of teak. The palace cum museum gives a glimpse of generations of royal members and is an architectural marvel.
Tired of shopping and sightseeing, the street side food is a welcome comfort for food lovers like me. To get the local cuisine I wandered into the Silom market, which I discovered was a treasure trove for foodies. The variety of confectioneries on offer is difficult to digest. But a word of caution though; Thais love coconut and practically all their dishes have coconut milk in it. Most of the road side food is very hygienic and safe to eat. I particularly liked Ban Khun Mae located cosily in Rama 1 Road, Prathumwan, which serves authentic Thai food. The food tantalises your palate with a sensation of sweetness and sourness at the same time. However, you cannot miss the strong presence of coconut milk in most of the dishes, albeit a crucial ingredient in all sweet dishes offered in Bangkok.
Considering Bangkok has a large population of HIV positive population, awareness about safe sex is at the top agenda of the government. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when we visited “Cabbages and Condoms” at Sukhumvit Soi 12. No, you did not read it wrong. The restaurant, which was started by former Thai health minister, aims at creating awareness about safe sex and targets at shedding inhibition when asking for condoms. The restaurant does this with light humour – innovatively using condoms as lamp shades, statues of Santa and a bride wearing costumes made of condoms and even golf champ Tiger Woods created from condoms. The restaurant serves Thai food and at the end of the meal instead of expecting mouth fresheners, the waitresses present you with a condom sachet, driving away your shyness when buying condom.
Bangkok is very safe for lone women travellers and I experienced this while visiting another market in Silom at night, which has stores that offer fakes of many handbag brands. However, the market also houses strip clubs, including shows by famous lady boys (transvestites), and the promoters don’t even spare women as I found out while exploring the market. The promoters kept on thrusting the ‘menu card’ and I had to beat a quick retreat.
So, the city with twinkling lights and amazing grace has indeed bedazzling a first timer like me to come back for more.
(The trip was made before Thailand was ravaged by floods. However, my friends there have assured that Bangkok is open to tourists now.)